Delving Deeper Into OC’s North-South Child Obesity Divide

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The percentage of overweight and obese kids is much higher in central and northern Orange County cities than it is in southern cities, going from a high of 52 percent in Stanton to 14 percent in Laguna Beach, according to a study by the California Center for Public Health Advocacy.

But the reality is not quite as cut and dried as the data seem to show, said one expert.

The June study analyzed results of state fitness tests for fifth-, seventh- and ninth-grade children in California, tracking kids who were overweight and obese in cities with populations of at least 20,000.

After Stanton, the cities with highest obesity rates were Santa Ana, Anaheim, Orange and Buena Park. And after Laguna Beach, the cities with the lowest rates were Newport Beach, Laguna Niguel, Aliso Viejo and Dana Point.

But while the county’s southern cities fared better in the study overall, low-income students in some southern cities still fared poorly, according to a local health expert.

Among fifth-graders at 10 low-income schools in San Juan Capistrano, San Clemente and Lake Forest, 42 percent were overweight or obese, said Carla DiCandia, manager of health and ministry services at St. Joseph Health Mission Hospital.

“There is a north-south divide,” DiCandia said, “but that’s misleading. When you separate the data out, it changes.”

Statewide the average percentage of overweight and obese kids was 38 percent, with Orange County’s average at 33 percent.

“The epidemic of childhood obesity will not be solved by calling for individual behavior change alone,” according to the report.

It recommended the following policy changes:

  • Maintain fitness testing in California schools.
  • Eliminate junk food and sugary drinks in schools.
  • Establish streets and paths that allow for safe walking and biking.
  • Offer all students adequate physical education with credentialed teachers.
  • Allow kids access to school playgrounds on the weekends.

— AMY DePAUL

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